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J Physiol Paris. 1999 Sep-Oct;93(4):271-84.

Visual inter-hemispheric processing: constraints and potentialities set by axonal morphology.

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Max Planck Institut für Hirnforschung, Frankfurt/Main, Germany.


The largest bundle of axonal fibers in the entire mammalian brain, namely the corpus callosum, is the pathway through which almost half a billion neurons scattered over all neocortical areas can exert an influence on their contralateral targets. These fibers are thus crucial participants in the numerous cortical functions requiring collaborative processing of information across the hemispheres. One of such operations is to combine the two partial cortical maps of the visual field into a single, coherent representation. This paper reviews recent anatomical, computational and electrophysiological studies on callosal connectivity in the cat visual system. We analyzed the morphology of individual callosal axons linking primary visual cortices using three-dimensional light-microscopic techniques. While only a minority of callosal axons seem to perform a strict 'point-to-point' mapping between retinotopically corresponding sites in both hemispheres, many others have widespread arbors and terminate into a handful of distant, radially oriented tufts. Therefore, the firing of a single callosal neuron might influence several cortical columns within the opposite hemisphere. Computer simulation was then applied to investigate how the intricate geometry of these axons might shape the spatio-temporal distribution of trans-callosal inputs. Based on the linear relation between diameter and conduction velocity of myelinated fibers, the theoretical delays required for a single action potential to reach all presynaptic boutons of a given arbor were derived from the caliber, g-ratio and length of successive axonal segments. This analysis suggests that the architecture of callosal axons is, in principle, suitable to promote the synchronous activation of multiple targets located across distant columns in the opposite hemisphere. Finally, electrophysiological recordings performed in several laboratories have shown the existence of stimulus-dependent synchronization of visual responses across the two hemispheres. Possible implications of these findings are discussed in the context of temporal tagging of neuronal assemblies.

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